In-Depth

Cloud Backup and Recovery

Will the cloud replace tape and local disk as the preferred means of protecting enterprise data? Though this was once unthinkable, cloud storage is starting to gain momentum.

Data backup and recovery is the bane of many an IT manager's existence. The overwhelming choices of software and services to address this critical task are doubly confounding in an era where access to data is a priority for the smallest of businesses to the largest of enterprises.

Two primary trends in backup and recovery are unfolding: Data-protection software is becoming more sophisticated, and a growing number of customers are starting to back up their data to the cloud.

While only 6 percent of data is now backed up to a cloud or Software as a Service (SaaS) provider, that figure is expected to grow by nearly 40 percent to account for 10 percent of all data by 2012, according to a survey by Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), a Milford, Mass.-based IT consulting and market-analysis firm. This growth can be attributed to an expanding number of organizations that are moving away from tape-based backup. According to ESG, backing up to tape will decline by 33 percent over that same two-year period.

"When you look at the subscription service model, there's no up-front capital investment -- it's all just coming out of your operational budget, so customers get used to writing a check," says Lauren Whitehouse, an ESG senior analyst. "The subscription model has merit for certain companies, and it's a new way of doing business."

That's especially the case for small and midsize enterprises, where surging amounts of data -- coupled with the inconvenience of managing tape -- is making cloud-based storage more attractive. Because data is encrypted on both ends before it's transmitted, organizations are becoming more comfortable that their data is secure using such services.

For large companies, Whitehouse says cloud backup and recovery is not readily an option. "I think their systems are very complex," she says. "[With] the amount of capacity of backup data they have, they could never get it over a low bandwidth connection within the window of time."

"There's always this fear of having data off-site, but I think that fear is going away. Everyone banks online; everything is online."

Jeff Rudolph, Partner, Sikich LLP

Another reason cloud backup and recovery is becoming more feasible to small and midsize customers is that the cost has gone way down, says Jeff Rudolph, a partner with Sikich LLP, which provides accounting, business operations and IT consulting services. The cost of backing up 500GB of data in 2005 was at least $13 per gigabyte, Rudolph recalls. Today, he estimates, it's $2 per gigabyte under similar terms.

"That's a huge price drop," Rudolph says. "That's why it was difficult to sell five years ago, and why it's becoming more appealing today. Before, the price of the backup was probably more than the servers -- but now it's really economical."

MSPs Aim for Midsize
Cost is the key differentiator in whether an organization is going to back their data up internally or to a cloud-based service, says Eric Pitcher, vice president of technology strategy at CA Technologies, the provider of the popular ARCserve backup and recovery software stack.

"It's not a technology discussion, it's a financial discussion," Pitcher says. "Quite honestly, I don't think you'll ever find a customer that will move 100 percent from on-premises to the cloud, so helping the customer be able to support both on-premises and the cloud -- and the combination of on-premises, cloud protection, disaster recovery and data -- is critical."

The sweet spot for backing up storage to the cloud or to systems hosted by managed services providers (MSPs) is small and midsize enterprises, most observers agree. "This whole small and midsize business segment is pretty well-suited to a subscription-based service model," Whitehouse says.

That's the focus of Rudolph's clientele. "There's much more acceptance of backing up over the Internet," he says. "There's always this fear of having data off-site, but I think that fear is going away. Everyone banks online; everything is online."

Sikich hosts 40 servers for its managed services clients. The MSP offers the LiveVault backup and recovery service from Iron Mountain Inc. LiveVault provides automatic server backup for Windows and non-Windows environments.

"When we do a refresh of their hardware, we introduce LiveVault," Rudolph says. "It's fairly economical. We've been seeing a lot of that activity, [so] when adding a new server or refreshing all of a customer's servers we put that out there. If you think of it as an insurance program, it's pretty inexpensive."

Daniel Stevenson, director of partner marketing at Iron Mountain -- which counts 400 partners who are reselling its portfolio of cloud-based backup and recovery services -- is seeing an uptick in demand, and as a result is looking to add more partners.

"We're seeing much more interest and appetite for our cloud-based solutions," Stevenson says. "We're no longer in the position where we're educating or only selling to the elite early adopters. I think people get it -- they really do."

Iron Mountain offers a broad range of backup and recovery services, ranging from storage of physical tapes to its NearPoint on-premises content archiving of Exchange, SharePoint and Windows file servers. (The company gained the technology from its acquisition of Mimosa Systems earlier this year.) It also offers CloudRecovery, which gives customers with Microsoft Data Protection Manager a cloud service to archive and restore data.

In addition to its LiveVault server backup offering, Iron Mountain also offers a service called Connected Backup, which provides data protection for corporate PCs and Macs. There are a slew of online backup providers that offer everything from basic file-level backup to block-level storage like Iron Mountain. Among these are Barracuda Networks Inc., EMC MozyPro, KineticD, Venyu Amerivault and others. For his part, LiveVault is the only online service Rudolph offers his customers.

Partnering Up
For those looking to do on-premises backup to disk and tape, Rudolph leads with Symantec BackupExec 2010, though he doesn't offer the company's new cloud offerings. Symantec Corp. has hitched its wagon to Nirvanix Inc., a San Diego, Calif.-based MSP. Partners can sell Symantec BackupExec, BackupExec System Recovery and NetBackup products with connectivity to Nirvanix via an OpenStorage Technology plug-in, says Dave Elliot, a senior product-marketing manager at Symantec.

Elliot downplays interest in backing up to the cloud, however. "I think there's a lot of interest, but in terms of actual commitments, we're still early days," he says. "But it has a lot of potential."

Spencer Ferguson, founder and president of Wasatch Software Inc., a Symantec partner, says he's seeing interest in using BackupExec and deploying it to the cloud. "Everything is going to the cloud, and backup isn't anything different," Ferguson says.

The biggest complaint about backing up data to the cloud, he notes, is the amount of time it can take to complete a backup -- and, likewise, how long it takes to recover a system.

"We have customers where it takes all night for a successful backup to run, and that's just not acceptable in many circumstances," he says.

With BackupExec 2010, released in February and updated in August, users can take advantage of a feature called data de-duplication, a function that only backs up data that has already changed on the primary system, thereby reducing backup windows.

"Every day everyone is creating more and more data, more and more files that need to be backed up on a daily basis or a weekly basis," Ferguson says. "As that grows and grows, you need more disk space; you need more storage. Utilizing the de-duplication features is really a way to attack that."

For now, Nirvanix is Symantec's chosen partner for offering cloud-based backup, Elliot says. He explains that the timeframe in which Symantec might add other cloud providers to the mix is to be determined. "Those conversations are ongoing," he says. "The intention is to extend it to a variety of those cloud providers."

For its part, CA in September inked a deal with N-able Technologies Inc., a leading provider of remote-management software for MSPs. N-able has already started marketing and selling the Windows-based CA ARCserve D2D, a recently added platform in the ARCserve suite that provides disk-to-disk replication of Windows-based servers. It constructs block-level incremental backups to reduce backup windows, network traffic and disk capacity requirements. Early next year, N-able will add CA ARCserve Replication software, intended for larger-scale backup and recovery scenarios.

"What we were trying to do with CA is bring a vendor that we see as having a ton of opportunity with a great MSP mentality and working in such a fashion that we can present to our partners a solution that's going to have integration, that's going to be priced in a complementary fashion, and that has a similar approach to MSP enablement that we do," says Derik Belair, N-able vice president of marketing and business development.

Last year, when N-able surveyed its partner base of MSPs to determine what they anticipate will be the most critical pain points of customers in the coming years, end-point security ranked first, followed by backup and recovery, Belair says.

"It will be a huge focus for us," he notes. "I'd say it will go hand-in-hand with strategies for how MSPs can leverage cloud infrastructure and the public cloud, and how they can leverage cloud computing to differentiate themselves in the marketplace. Certainly, from a product focus, the backup is going front and center, for sure."

One thing that appears certain: Cloud backup and recovery is at an early stage, but the offerings are going to grow as some players consolidate. As the price of online storage continues to come down, more enterprises will be adding the cloud as a key part of their data-protection and data-archiving strategies.